by Dave Pratte
Recently I was asked: "How was it back in the dark ages when you first begin to home school?" Well, we began home schooling in 1982. That may not sound like long ago, but it has been the experience of a lifetime, and the changes we have seen in the home-school movement are awesome and exciting. So much has changed that I don't remember all the differences, but here are a few:
* When we began, we did not personally know anyone who was home schooling, let alone anyone in the church. Fortunately God blessed us with the Hewitt family, in our local church, who were willing to take the plunge with us. We have been through a lot together.
* There were no such things as home-school support groups in our city (Ft. Wayne, IN) or anywhere near. If you home schooled, you did it on your own, folks. However, we helped start a support group, and today Ft. Wayne has several large support groups with hundreds of families involved.
Soon after we started, we received a visit from some people in Indianapolis who were interested in home schooling. It turned out one was married to a judge! They started a state-wide home school support group. Now every state has a state-wide support group, and so do most large cities. If you have a question now, there are hundreds of people to give you answers.
* At that time we almost never just happened across someone else who said, "Oh, yes, we are home schoolers too!" or "Oh, I have a sister (daughter, cousin, neighbor, etc.) who does that." And no one in the Lord's church was saying things like that. Now we hear it so often we just smile...
* In those days, there were no such things as Teaching Home, Practical Home Schooling, Family Times or any newsletters or magazines to give ideas or encouragement. There were no home-school seminars, no Gregg Harris, no books of any kind about home schooling. However, not long after we began, Raymond and Dorothy Moore began a small but encouraging newsletter, and later they wrote some books. Their books are generally out of date, and I rarely hear of the Moores these days, but they were a wonderful encouragement back then.
* There were no book fairs then, no Mary Pride, no Big Book of Home Learning, and no sources of any kind to give suggestions or guidance about what curriculum to use. You did your own research, found what was available, and made your decisions.
* On the other hand, there wasn't much need for a book to review alternative curricula, because there were practically no alternatives anyway! Generally, publishers sold only to schools, and they said we were not a school. A Beka sold their curriculum guides only to private schools in those days and flat refused to sell to us. We were legally incorporated as an academy, but that did not count because we taught our own children. Now in recent years, an A Beka representative voluntarily came to our house every year to sell books to us and other home schoolers! There are so many different choices of publications now that I feel sorry for folks just starting out - it has to be confusing having so many people after you to buy their products!
* In those days, legal problems were a major concern. If you weren't sure about the views of other people, you just did not mention home schooling to them. Practically no state had a law expressly permitting home schooling. There was no such thing as the Home School Legal Defense Association to protect home schoolers who were confronted, harassed, or sued by school officials or child "welfare" agencies. HSLDA has been a blessing from God that most novice home schoolers will never appreciate fully. Today any home schooler can have full provision of experienced legal defense through HSLDA.
But even more wonderful, modern home schoolers rarely have to worry about legal hassles because every state now permits home schooling in one form or another. Most state laws directly mention home schooling, but others allow it as a private school. Not one state today requires home school parents even to have a teaching certificate. This is the result of the work of HSLDA along with thousands of home school parents who fought long and hard for these rights. But above all it is a blessing from God.
* Some folks we knew back then, whether in the church or out, strongly objected to our choice to home school. Many home schoolers have been harassed by the public schools, but the public schools gave us little trouble. While we were in the public schools, we had so much conflict over sex ed, evolution, Values Clarification, feminism, etc., that by the time we left, they were glad to see us go! The last thing they wanted to do was oppose our leaving!
Yet opposition came from elsewhere. My heart still bears the scars from the letter I received from a close college buddy, a member of the Lord's church who, after we began to home school, wrote to tell me he considered me to have departed from the faith and I was no longer welcome in his home. He did not even tell me why he felt that way. I surmised it was because we were home schooling, but he refused to answer my letters asking what I had done to alienate him. Years later we were able to communicate, he confirmed that he was alienated by our home schooling, and he apologized. But the pain at the time was immeasurable.
Many other folks took a "wait and see" approach. Some of these, years later, have told us they weren't sure about our decision when we began, but as they saw our kids develop, they realized we had made a good decision.
But many other friends, relatives, and Christians were very supportive, especially and above all, my parents and my wife's parents. They have been among our cheerleaders from the outset. As they have watched our children develop, they reassure us repeatedly that they are glad for our choice. Words cannot express how much that means.
* Now we are working with others to change the way colleges receive home schoolers. That will change too. Like all the other changes that have occurred, we just have to work and be patient.
Do we pioneers pity ourselves for the problems we have endured? On the contrary, we faced the hardships with all the excitement and adventure of the early American settlers. Every battle fought and won was cause for major celebration. Many barriers have fallen, but the war is not over - it may have just seriously begun. The home school movement is so large and influential now that the NEA and cohorts cannot ignore us. Major confrontations await. But we have many recruits now to join us in the battles.
As I think back over the years, in many ways I feel like I do when I read the Little House on the Prairie books. The Ingalls faced incredible hardships - I'm glad I don't have to face them. But they found excitement and joy everywhere despite the hardships. In the same way, next to being a Christian, a husband, a father, and a gospel preacher, some of my greatest blessings have come through home schooling. If I could do it over again, I could avoid a few mistakes. But nothing on earth I can think of would make me want to do it any other way.
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